To coincide with the today’s release of “Just Passing Through” we sent Loretta Barnard into the jazz hole to chart her experience.
When I opened the stream to listen to Just Passing Through and saw that “Tiger Rag” was the opening track, my heart sank a little. A very old traddie piece that’s been dulled by decades of frantic interpretation by musicians whose dreams may possibly have surpassed their talents.
In fact, it’s a great track to begin with, setting the scene for fast-paced dexterity on both the guitars and that red-hot violin.
Just Passing Through features three very fine Australian musicians – Ian Date, Ian Cooper and Tommy Emmanuel – in a tribute to the Quintette du Hot Club de France, the iconic band formed in Paris in 1934 by guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stéphane Grappelli. Their music is now referred to as “gypsy jazz” or “gypsy swing”. It’s infectious and toe-tapping, and Date, Cooper and Emmanuel bring their own brand of exuberance to the genre. You can actually hear these guys having fun.
The album is both a reflection and a homage to the pioneers of gypsy jazz. Most of the pieces are Hot Club tracks, including “Honeysuckle Rose”, “Georgia on My Mind” (listen to Date’s guitar; it’s as gorgeous as the song), and “Oh, Lady be Good”. My favourite tracks are “Caravan” and “Nuages”.
“Caravan” is a joy. Cooper’s classical credentials come through even as he shows off his considerable jazz chops. There are some very nice Spanish flourishes from Emmanuel’s guitar. The piece goes from subdued to ecstatic, and back again, always evoking the exoticism associated with this great Duke Ellington classic.
The trio plays a beautifully nuanced version of “Nuages“, one of Django’s most enduring compositions, with intelligent, understated guitar work and deft, subtle bowing on that violin. The build-up to the final bars is just lovely.
“Blues For Tex” is a departure from the Hot Club vibe, having a bit of a country music feel, perhaps a nod to Emmanuel’s early mentor, country music stalwart Chet Atkins. The piece’s train-like rhythm and layering of textures is very effective.
“Smile” features lovely sensitive playing from Cooper, and rich inventive harp-like phrases from the guitars. In spite of its title, suggestive of grief and longing, “After You’ve Gone”, the upbeat final track, actually brings a smile to your face. On all tracks, the musicianship is evident. The playing is polished, dextrous and discerning.
One of the striking things about this album is that it has all the hallmarks of a live performance, with both rehearsed precision and spontaneity. There is a palpable rapport between the players – they are listening closely to one another and responding accordingly. I enjoyed the scat singing along with the playing. It’s been my experience that musicians entirely engrossed in what they’re doing tend to “sing” along, mostly unconsciously. It’s quite endearing.
For fans of well-played guitar, this a gratifying listening experience. Add to that the jaunty/pensive, always expressive violin and you’re on a winner.
Gypsy jazz might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s really worth having a listen to these incredible musicians doing their thing.